Three days to never a no.., p.18
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       Three Days to Never: A Novel, p.18

           Tim Powers
 

  Just as a photograph of lunar craters can seem to show domes and ridges until the eye’s perspective shifts to see craters and cracks, the arcs or threads were also visible as tiny, tightly wound coils, like knots in an infinitely tall and wide stack of carpets.

  In the shorter wavelengths of his attention, the lifeline of Albert Einstein was discernible—extending from the band that included Ulm, Germany, in the region of 1879 to the band encompassing New Jersey in 1955.

  Rascasse had paid attention to the Einstein line before, and knew what he would see. Even viewed as a stretched-out arc rather than a coil, the Einstein line was a tangled mess; it intersected with a number of other lines, one of which showed branches near the intersections—looked at from another perspective, these branching lines could be seen as two lines merging into one, but Rascasse was imposing time’s futureward arrow onto the vista—and so the branches were childbirths, offspring.

  Einstein’s second wife was his first cousin, whose maiden name was Einstein, and their lifelines from 1919 through her death in 1936 were a hopelessly interconnected hall of mirrors; and from the midst of that confusion a third thread emerged in 1928, in the region of the Swiss Alps, though it didn’t seem to arise from one of those branchings that indicated a childbirth.

  Rascasse’s attention was on that spontaneously arising thread. It went on to intersect with another thread at several points, and showed two offspring branches—close focus indicated that these two were the lifelines of Frank Marrity and Moira Bradley—and then the strange thread ended in 1955, in New Jersey, so close to the end of the Einstein thread that they almost seemed to have merged. They were, in fact, extraordinarily similar.

  Rascasse shifted his attention forward in the direction of increasing entropy, to Frank Marrity’s adulthood.

  Marrity’s thread intersected with another in 1974, and the daughter’s resulting branch was distinct for a distance of a dozen years; but in 1987 a new thread was in their cluster too, and Rascasse’s attention couldn’t make out where that new thread had come from either. Whatever it was, whoever it was, it made a confusion of Marrity’s lifeline—just as the cousin-wife’s line had made a confusion of Einstein’s. There appeared to be a rupture in Marrity’s lifeline there in 1987, or perhaps the rupture was in the newly intruding thread; they were so close and so similar that Rascasse couldn’t be sure.

  Rascasse occupied the tight-focus end of his attention, and he saw the Marritys’ newcomer as a zigzagging line in San Bernardino in a narrow section of 1987; and, sampled at several points, the newcomer’s line was in a sequence of cars that were all the green Rambler station wagon. But even in the car the newcomer was hard to follow—at least once the Rambler seemed to end and then begin again in a different place.

  None of this was easy to perceive. The whole 1987 region was chaotic, with thousands of lifelines blurring into a cloudy unity, especially at the bands that were Mount Shasta and Taos, New Mexico. This haze was the Harmonic Convergence, turbulent with virtual personalities that arose as points in the psychic fog but that extended no farther in time.

  Lieserl Maric’s time line bent impossibly in this cloud: Instead of moving forward in the direction of time, it bent sharply sideways, perpendicular, and simultaneously occupied miles and acres of space, and then ended in the static tornado around Mount Shasta. She had jumped out of the four-dimensional fabric, but to move through space instead of through time.

  Somehow it seemed that she had ridden a golden helix from Pasadena to Mount Shasta; and Rascasse realized that in cross section the helix would be a swastika shape.

  Rascasse’s focus on the 1987 maelstrom had tilted him back toward that time, and he could feel his attention losing scope, narrowing down. The bus was a looping track through the area that was late summer, like a particle of dust enacting Brownian motion in a glass of water, and he could see the little loop in its track that was its stop halfway up the mountain at Panorama Point.

  He let himself fall back into specific spatial locality and the conveyor belt of sequential time.

  He was on his knees, and his arms were clinging to the railing post. He had been in this position for so short a time that his knees didn’t yet ache from pressing against the hard, sandy surface.

  He got to his feet, and was standing, staring out at the lights of San Bernardino when Golze came trudging up from behind.

  “Did you see my tattoo?” Golze asked.

  “I saw our man in the green Rambler,” said Rascasse shortly. “He doesn’t appear to have been born—he simply showed up here and now within the last few days.”

  Golze whistled, all flippancy gone. “Now that could be the old lady’s device at work. I thought he was Frank Marrity’s father.”

  “No, he’s not. I can’t imagine who he is. But speaking of Marrity’s father, he also doesn’t show a mother or a birth—it looks as if he simply appeared in 1928, in the Swiss Alps—but he died in New Jersey in 1955. I remember it. We killed him.”

  “So Derek Marrity’s dead? Been dead for thirty-two years?”

  “Right.”

  “And he had no mother or birth? I thought he was Lisa Marrity’s son. Lieserl Maric’s. Einstein’s grandson.”

  “No, Lieserl…adopted him.”

  “So why did you kill him, in ’55? You keep killing all these interesting people, rather than talking to them. You sure you don’t want to call off Charlotte?”

  “Yes, I’m sure. We did talk to him. We concluded that he would be more use to us dead than alive—though in fact he has not been much use so far.”

  “How did we think he would be of use to us dead?”

  “As a guide, an oracle, because of his origin. And he might yet serve as that.” Rascasse turned and started back toward the bus. He paused in front of the folded-open door. “I think we should dump the body of our…toll, right here.”

  “Sure,” said Golze, grinning, “we leave a trail of corpses. Like Hansel and Gretel, so we can find our way back.”

  Thirteen

  Frank Marrity awoke in the hospital-room chair when the aluminum-framed window had just begun to pale with dawn. Daphne was asleep under the thin-looking blankets, the IV tube still taped to her elbow, and he was impatient to get her out of here.

  He reached into his shirt pocket for the NSA man’s business card, and pulled out two cards. One was the NSA man’s, blank except for the 800 telephone number, and the other was Libra Nosamalo Morrison’s. Veterinary Medicine.

  I should have given her card to Jackson, he thought, along with the taxi company’s card. Or maybe I should give Jackson’s card to her. Who are any of these people? Libra Nosamalo—deliver us from evil.

  He stood up and stretched, then crossed to Daphne’s table and wrote on the top sheet of her pad, Went for a smoke—back in five. He laid the pad on her blanket.

  He walked past the nurse’s station to the elevators, and as he was crossing the carpeted ground-floor lobby, nodding to the bored-looking woman behind the desk, he already had a pack of Dunhills and a Bic lighter in his hands—and he was surprised to see Libra Nosamalo Morrison herself, outside the window glass, standing beside a blocky concrete bench and smoking again. She was looking away from him, out toward the still dark parking lot.

  He shuffled to a stop.

  She was at St. Bernardine’s yesterday afternoon, he thought. What is she doing at this hospital now, this children’s hospital? Well—Dunhills, Milton, Housman, Laphroaig scotch—obviously she’s here to talk to me. At about five in the morning.

  Don’t talk to her, Jackson had said.

  Marrity took two steps backward, then turned to go back to the elevators.

  But behind him he heard her voice call, “Frank?” and he stopped, and then turned around.

  She had stepped inside, and as soon as he looked squarely at her she turned her head toward him and waved, smiling. She was still wearing her sunglasses—in fact she was still wearing the black jeans and the burgundy blouse. Her right
hand was in her purse, possibly groping for a pack of cigarettes. Was she going to ask him to go outside and smoke with her?

  A man was pushing through the door behind her, but Marrity’s attention was on the woman, who now pulled a big steel revolver out of her purse.

  As Marrity watched, the gun was raised to point at his face.

  “Frank!” screamed the man behind her, lunging forward and apparently punching her in the back; her arm swung wide in the instant that Marrity’s ears were shocked by the hard pop of a gunshot. Glass broke and clattered behind him.

  The man behind her was his father, and the old man was staring hard at the blue carpet. “Don’t look at her, Frank!” the old man yelled, nearly as loud as before. “She’s blind if you don’t look at her!” Derek Marrity spun to face the woman behind the reception desk. “Get down!” he shouted at her.

  Marrity crouched and looked toward the hallway that led back to the elevators.

  “Frank!” called the woman in sunglasses. “Look at me!”

  It reminded Marrity of what the cartoon figure had said to Daphne a few hours ago—Say I can come in, Daphne!—and he looked instead at one of the dozen blue couches and dove behind it.

  She fired two shots anyway, and one of them made the couch jump.

  “Somebody look at me!” she yelled.

  “You’re facing the elevators!” shouted Derek Marrity, apparently at the Libra Nosamalo woman. “We’re behind you!”

  “Liar,” she said, and two more shots shook the lobby air.

  If she steps around this couch, she’ll have a clear shot at me, Marrity thought. He braced himself to sprint for the hallway, but in that instant he heard the doors clack open, and then his father called, “She left. She couldn’t see. Go to the elevator hallway without looking back.”

  Marrity got to his feet and made himself look only toward the elevator doors as he hurried out of the lobby. His father was beside him, hardly panting. He seemed much less sickly now than he had yesterday.

  “And out the back,” the old man said. He even had a suntan now.

  Marrity hit the 2 button. “No, I’ve got to get Daphne.”

  “Frank, she’s dead, there’s nothing you can do for her. You’ve got to get out of here.”

  …she’s dead…

  Marrity’s heart froze, and the next thing he was consciously aware of was jumping up the stairs two at a time. Behind and below him he heard his father bang aside the stairway door, which hadn’t had time to close.

  Marrity slammed open the door to the second floor and raced past the nurse’s station to Daphne’s room; and then he sagged in relief when he saw her sitting up in bed and blinking at him in alarm.

  “You’re—all right?” he said breathlessly. “Nobody’s been in here?”

  “I’m fine,” she said hoarsely. Then she whispered, “Was a woman shooting at you, or did I dream that? No, nobody’s been in here.”

  “Daph,” he said, “I think it’s time you checked out.” He turned to the closet and began yanking her jeans and blouse off the hangers. His face was cold with sweat.

  “Right now?” she whispered. “I’ve got an IV!”

  “We’ll get a nurse to take it out. Or I will. If I can do a tracheotomy, I can—but we’re not—”

  Footsteps slapped on the hallway linoleum, and Marrity stepped back to stand in front of Daphne, but it was his father who strode into the room.

  “They’ll have moved her—” the old man began, and then his eyes focused on Daphne.

  “I don’t understand,” he said clearly.

  And then Marrity turned and threw himself across Daphne, for his ears had been concussed by a deafening bang, and his father had collapsed against the door frame and begun to slide to the floor.

  No further explosions followed, though over the ringing in his ears Marrity thought he heard a crisp roar, like a TV set on a blank channel with the volume turned way up.

  Marrity looked fearfully over his shoulder—but though his father had tumbled apparently unconscious onto the linoleum floor, nobody had appeared behind him. The roaring had stopped, if it had ever been a real external noise. His father’s slack face was pale and old.

  With trembling fingers Marrity peeled the tape off Daphne’s forearm and drew the IV needle out of her wrist. She was probably deafened too, so he just shoved her clothes into her hands.

  She started to sit up, then winced and said, “Ribs! Help me up!”

  He got an arm behind her shoulders and lifted her to a sitting position, and she quickly slid out of her hospital gown and scrambled into the jeans and blouse with no further hindrance from her cracked ribs. She knelt by the closet to pick up her shoes in one hand, and then nodded at Marrity.

  Nurses were shouting questions, but Marrity held Daphne’s elbow and marched her toward the far-stairway exit door.

  “I’ll fetch the truck,” Marrity said loudly as they scuffed down the steel-edged cement stairs. “You wait by the door and hop in when I pull up.”

  Daphne was ahead of him, nimble on her bare feet. In something like her normal voice she asked, “Shouldn’t we do something about your father?”

  “Like get him to a hospital?”

  At the bottom of the stairwell, Marrity pushed open the door and peered out; no one was in sight along the brightly lit carpeted hall, so he led Daphne to the exterior door at the near end of the hall.

  “One minute,” he told her.

  He stepped outside and glanced in both directions, but he didn’t see the woman in sunglasses, and so far there were no police or security guards in sight. There were no shadows yet, but the sky was bright blue over the mountains in the east. He took a deep breath of the chilly air and then ran across the parking lot to the Ford pickup truck.

  It started on the first twist of the ignition key, and without giving it a moment to warm up he banged it into reverse and swung out of the parking space; then he had pulled the lever down into first and gunned the truck across the empty lanes to the door, and only when Daphne had burst out of the door and hopped up into the passenger seat did he realize that he had been holding his breath.

  “What’s going on?” asked Daphne, slamming her door.

  “Somebody tried to shoot me, a few minutes ago,” Marrity said as he made a right turn out of the hospital parking lot. His hands were trembling again, and he gripped the steering wheel tightly. He was panting. “You didn’t dream it. Put your seat belt on, and keep it away from your neck. A woman, with sunglasses—”

  “The one you told Mr. Jackson about.” Daphne pulled the spring-loaded strap across her chest and fumbled beside her for the buckle. “He said don’t talk to her. Headlights?”

  Marrity pulled out the headlights knob, though it made no difference in visibility. “That’s the one. I didn’t say a word to her, she just started shooting. And then my father said you were dead, and he was—you saw—real surprised to see that you were alive. He saved my life,” he added. “Knocked her gun aside.”

  “I hope he’s not dead.”

  “I do too, I guess.”

  Where do we go?” Daphne hummed a few rising and falling notes. “My voice seems okay.”

  “I don’t know.” Marrity looked into the rearview mirror as he made a third right turn, onto westbound Highland Avenue now, and saw no cars at all in the shadowed lanes under the brightening sky, just a couple of big grocery-delivery trucks receding away ahead of him. “Nobody’s following us. Yes, you sound like your usual self.”

  “Maybe home?”

  “Maybe. Or—I’m gonna turn south now, and see if that new car back there turns left too.”

  The light was red at D Street, but he turned left into a doughnut-shop parking lot, drove diagonally right through the lot and made a left onto D Street. The truck rocked on its springs.

  Daphne was twisted around under her seat belt, kneeling on the seat to look behind them through the camper shell’s back window.

  “He turned south too, Dad,” sh
e said quietly as she sat down again. “I think there’s two people in the car.”

  “Yes,” agreed Marrity, forcing himself to speak calmly. And the passenger, he thought, is wearing sunglasses.

  His father had said, She’s blind if you don’t look at her.

  “Don’t look at them, Daph,” he said tightly.

  There was a police station five or six blocks ahead, he remembered.

  He could see now that the car behind was a tan Honda—it was gaining on them, clearly meaning to pass. Marrity could believe that the person in the passenger seat would have some kind of full-automatic gun this time. He tromped on the gas and the truck surged forward, but the Honda was still gaining, edging to the left.

  There was no way that Marrity would be able outrun it to the police station.

  “Daph,” he said quickly, “can you picture the radiator of a car?” The truck’s engine was roaring, but he didn’t want to shift to third because in that gear it tended to slack off for a few moments before regaining power.

  “Sure. Are they going to shoot us?”

  “Yes. Can you grab the radiator of their car, without looking at it, the way you grabbed Rumbold on Sunday?”

  Daphne frowned and screwed her eyes shut, then after a moment opened her eyes and peered uncertainly over her shoulder.

  The Honda was nearly even with them, but swinging out wide into the empty oncoming lanes—to prevent Marrity from sideswiping them, presumably, and to have a clear shot even if Marrity braked hard.

  Which he did. In the same instant that he straightened his leg to force the brake pedal all the way down, the hood of the Honda exploded up in a huge starburst of white steam.

  Marrity had to concentrate on his own vehicle. The truck was shuddering and fishtailing as the tires screamed on the pavement, and even in the confusion Marrity remembered to pull the gear shift lever down into first, so that he was able to let the brake up and steer quickly through the cloud of tire smoke into an alley on the right, and then speed down the alley with his exhaust battering back from a row of closed garage doors.

 

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